CSSA

Calgary Speed Skating Association

How to Sharpen your Skates

Speed skates need to be hand sharpened.  Why?  Well, I suppose that
no one has invented an adequate machine yet (is that how you’ll make
your untold millions?).  Okay, the real reasons include:

  • Speed skates are flat-ground.  This is in contrast to a hockey skate or figure skate that is hollow-ground.  That means that if you were to hold a speed skate upside down (blades up) and run your finger along the top of the blade, you’d feel it was flat. In contrast, if you were to do the same to a hockey skate or figure skate, you’d feel a pronounced dip into the blade.  A speed skate is flat-ground to reduce resistance, while hockey and figure skates are hollow ground to increase maneuverability — the ability to turn tighter and stop faster.
  • Hand sharpening preserves the rocker.  Okay, this is a bit weak … if you had a good machine that maintained the rocker, you’d be a long way forward.  Simply stated however, with a machine you can screw up a blade faster.  So, by hand sharpening (correctly) your blades will maintain the right “roundness” (toe-to-heel) – the rocker.
  • Sharpening gives a skater a “zen” moment between and before races. Most of the time you could go without sharpening skates for
    an entire competition.  However, sharpening can form part of a mental strategy that a skater uses to relax before each race.  It is 10 minutes that you won’t think of anything but getting a good edge for
    your next race.

A sharp blade is a skate with a perfect 90 degree angle between the side of the blade and the bottom of the blade, all the way along each of the edges.  There should be no burrs and no nicks.  The bottom of the blade should be polished with no grooves or scratch marks.  Now it is time to make that happen …

What you’ll need

You will need five things to get sharpening speed skates:

  1. Sharpening Jig
    – These are specialized jigs for holding speed skates steady while sharpening.  There are many places where you can get these. You might start by contacting  the Alberta Speed Skating Association. Jigs will likely cost around $250, and they last a lifetime.
  2. BIG, 2-sided sharpening stone
    There are a variety of types available – and lots of lore about what is better.  A variety of stones are available through the Alberta Speed Skating Association, and also retailers like Lee Valley Tools (considering Lee Valley is a tool store, and they know more about stones than I’ll give you here … they’d be a good place to go). Considerations include oil or water stones, aluminum oxide or diamond stones, and so on.  For me, my preference is a big Norton oil stone which costs about $50.
  3. Small burr stone.
    Again, there are a variety of options here, and again you can find more through the Alberta Speed Skating Association. Essentially the burr stone is a small flat stone about 8cm long, 2cm wide, and 5mm thick.  It is the sort of stone you might use to sharpen a small pocket knife.  This will set you back about $10.
  4. Oil or water.
     Depending on type of stone you are using, you may need some oil or water to clean the stone as you go.  Some advantages of a water stone include:  you virtually always have water handy for sharpening, it is a little cleaner than oil, and it will rust metal shavings right out of it.  If you choose to use oil, you can choose from a variety of light oil products to clean your stone. My favourite is 3-in-1 oil.
    Other options could include honing oil, baby oil, or even olive oil.  I used varsol for years, and definitely don’t recommend that (very, very smelly, and wasn’t that good for the stone or my hands).  You can apparently use kerosene, but I wouldn’t recommend it as you could end up blowing up your skates.  What should you use?  Have this discussion with a knowledgeable sharpening professional, or search the net for more input.
  5. A rag. 
    You, the skates, the stone, and your jig all stand a good chance of getting messy.  Have a rag handy.

You should also have a clean cloth and a couple of small bandages handy – perhaps a little first aid kit.. You never know when you might cut yourself.  (Hmm … is your tetanus shot up to date?)

 

Getting Started and Setting up

First off, find a space where if you get the floor (or table) dirty it won’t matter. If you can’t find that, be sure to throw down some
newspaper or something.  Also, if you are sharpening at a meet, try to find a quiet and out-of-the-way place so that no one is having
to step over or around you.

Next, set up the skates in the jig.  An important concept to keep in mind when you are setting up your skates in the jig is that you want to keep them
parallel and always put them in the jig in the same way.  To help with this, you should (first of all) always use the same jig. This is a major advantage of owning your own jig.

  1. Before you start sharpening, inspect the blades for nicks, stripped edges, and potentially unwanted bends or a bad rocker.  You can do some of this simply by running your fingers along the edges of the blades, and some by eyeballing along the edge of the blade (into the light) for both rocker and curve.  The latter takes some experience, and shouldn’t be considered accurate.  If you think you have a problem with either, seek out the advice of an experienced coach or the Oval skate shop.
  2. Tighten the toe-end of the jig, and loosen the heal-end of the jig (so that it can slide on the bar).
  3. Slide the toe-ends of the skate blades into the jig and snug up the jaws (not tight … the blades should slide around in the jaws, but with a touch of friction from them).  The right skate is going to go in the left side of the jig, and the left in the right.  If – when you have everything all tightened up – you were to flip the jig over, it would look as though you could put the skates on and enter a crazy and dangerous event on a luge track.
  4. Slide the heal-ends of the skate blades into the jig, and snug up the jaw
  5. Some jigs will have a guide-plate or stopper on the toe-end of the blade. Pull the blade  up tight to that.  If you don’t have a toe-stopper, you might simply pull the toe of  the blade even with the end of the jig.
  6. Using both hands, hold the toe of the skate against the guide-plate and pull the blade of the skate up in the jaws of the jig until the “step” of the tube (i.e. the groove that the blade sits in) presses firmly against the jaws of the jig.  Tighten the jaw.  (See the picture below)
  7. Repeat on the toe-end of the other blade.
  8. Tighten up the back of the jig so that the jaws are holding the skate blades.
  9. Again, using two hands, pull the blade of the skate up in the jaws of the jig until the “step” of the tube presses firmly against the jaws of the jig. Tighten the jaw.
  10. Repeat with the last “corner” of the skates.
  11. If everything is going right, at this point the blades will be square to the jig’s jaws, and completely parallel to one another.  In a perfect world, they are completely even and level at any perpendicular point across the blades (e.g. from left to right at the toe of the blade, in the middle of the blade, and at the heel of the blade). (See the pictures below)

Toe of the skate against the jig’s guide-plate, and with the blade’s tube step pulled up to the jig’s jaw.

Skates in the jig – side view

Skates in the jig – top view

(Note: You may see some people using the guide-plate at the heel and not the toe. Does this matter?  Nope!  You can use it anyway you choose.  The important point is to use the same jig in the same setup and the same way every time.  If you use the guide-plate for the toe, then always use it for the toe.  If you use it for the heel, then always use it for the heel.)

Sharpening Process

There are seven steps to sharpening:

  1. Grind the blades to make them flat, using an end-to-end and side-to-side motion with the coarse side of the big stone.
  2. Smooth the blades to remove scratches using an end-to-end motion with the smooth side of the big stone.
  3. Burr the blades to take off the burr you create when sharpening.
  4. Smooth the blades again.
  5. Remove them from the jig.
  6. Burr the skates a final time.
  7. Put your skates away safely in dry skate guards.

More details on these steps are shown and described below.  In all cases, be very careful not to slip.  You are dealing with hardened steel, heavy stones, oil and grit, burrs and steel shavings. So, you can cut yourself easily and deeply.

Of course, once you’ve sharpened your skates, you should also check for things like loose bolts, frayed laces, and other similar maintenance steps.

Grinding

  • Once you’ve got the skates in the jig, it is time to start sharpening. Put a little oil on the coarse side of your big stone and rub it around.  Flip your stone over (coarse side of the stone rubbing on the blades) and drag the stone from one side of the skates to the other (e.g. left to right) and end-to-end. (See pictures below)
  • Establish a rhythm.  For instance, you may do 10 left-to-right strokes. Then change it up and do 10 from right-to-left.  Repeat this several times (e.g. 4 sets of 10).
  • It is important that: (1) you keep the stone perpendicular to the blades, and (2) that you let the stone do the cutting (i.e. don’t push down on the stone). All you are doing is pushing the stone from side-to-side and keeping it 90 degrees to the blades in nice, long, even strokes.
  • When you have done a set of 4×10 strokes, stop and check for a burr. Do this by pulling a finger-nail up the edge of the blade (in a motion from floor to ceiling) and trying to catch it on the lip of the burr you are forming.  Check for one in several places on all four edges.
  • Whether or not you have one, flip the jig around and repeat the process from the other end of the jig. Always try to keep the same number of strokes from each end of the jig.
  • Check for a burr again.  If you don’t have one, flip the jig around and repeat the steps above with another set of strokes with the coarse stone (both ways – heel to toe, and toe to heel), until you get a good burr all the way along all four edges.
  • When you are done, use a little oil on your stone, and rub it around to remove the steel particles from the stone.  Wipe it clean with your rag.

Start the stone at one end of the blades and on one side of the stone…

Drag it to the other end of the blade and across to the other side of the stone.

 

Smoothing and Polishing

  • Grinding will leave the bottoms of the blade with big side-to-side scratches. If left alone, those would cause friction and slow the skater down.  You want to polish those away.
  • Put a little oil on the smooth side of your big stone and rub it around.  Flip your stone over (smooth side of the stone on the blades now) and stroke from end-to-end on the blades.
  • You can slowly “walk” the stone from left-to-right as you do this. The only purpose to that is to use as much of the stone as possible without wearing it out.
  • Do 15-20 strokes and you will see that you start to remove all the scratches. Continue on until the blades are nice and shiny with no side-to-side marks or scratches.
  • When you are done, use a little oil on your stone, and rub it around to remove the steel particles from the stone.  Wipe it clean with your rag.

Burring: in the jig

  • Burring? De-burring?  Doesn’t really matter.  What you are doing is using the burr stone to remove the burr.
  • Leave the skates in the jig, and slide the burr stone along the side of the blade – going back and forth along each edge 10-20 times.
  • Check for the burr.  If you still have one, repeat this process until you are done.
  • It is important to understand that you are partially cutting off the burr, partially breaking it, and partially pushing it back upright. So, you need to smooth the skates one more time to push the burr back down.

Burring: out of the jig

  • Finally, you get to take the skates out of the jig.
  • Brace them firmly and run the burr stone up and down each edge again.
  • Check for a burr, and repeat this process until each edge is nice and sharp and doesn’t have a burr.

Other resources

Here are a few more examples of sharpening clinics.  Each of these present a bit different technique and some different stones. You’ll notice from the variety that there is some science and some art to sharpening.

Questions???

If you have questions, please either (a) ask your coach or (b) email the CSSA Equipment VC for answers.

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